IT’S AMAZING sometimes the simple facts we ignore in a bid to rationalise what we’re watching. I’ve heard and read a wide variety of wise old football people saying that we shouldn’t read anything into Dublin’s routine demolition of a ‘shadow Kerry side’ in Killarney on Sunday.
Any attempt to analyse a game at this time of the year will be met with a sad shake of the head and perhaps a sigh, if you are even deemed worthy of it, from such people. We are each entitled to our opinion – and it is indeed debatable how much Sunday’s game in Fitzgerald Stadium “matters” – but it’s frustrating when statistics that are so simple to check are ignored.
Look, it’s not rocket science. You go on the web and look up the Dublin team that played Mayo last Autumn. Ditto for the Kerry team that played Donegal. You compare them with this week’s teams and, hey presto, the guff is exposed. Seven Kerry players started both games. Seven Dublin players started both games. Include the subs, and there were 10 Kerrymen who played in both of games to eight Dubs.
Enough of showboating our internet skills. Does the game matter? Well, that depends on how much you want to learn from it. As far as the old school are concerned, any reversal in the championship of any result from this time of the year is incontrovertible proof that spring football is somewhere south of irrelevant.
These people would not get very far into a science degree. Well, of course team’s fortunes in a one-off knock-out game seven months from now might be different. No one took Chelsea’s Champions League victory last season as evidence that we should ‘read nothing into that Premier League shite’.
Yet if Kerry beat Dublin by a point this September many will be the howls of derision that we dared criticise the Kingdom for scoring four points in 105 minutes of football in February.
Spurs beat Man United 3-2 at Old Trafford last autumn and now sit 17 points behind them in the Premier League table. Yet people who analysed performances in that game are not now held up to ridicule for failing to take into account rumours that United had a heavy physical session the day before that game and, furthermore, had very little ball work done.
So there’s the counter-guff; on to the game. The real worry to come out of it for Kerry is not that Dublin might destroy them in similar fashion in the championship this year: it is what might be happening in the championship five years from now.
Both counties mixed the experienced with the experimental and the contrast in how each side’s young guns fared could not have been more marked. One passage of play in the 19th minute summed up the difference.
Wing-forward Mike O’Donoghue picked up possession in his own half, and for perhaps the first time in the game, he had some time to decide what to do with it. ‘Stam’ is not a bad player – he scored two goals in the final in Kerry’s 2008 All-Ireland U21 victory – but in this game he already had a couple of mistakes under his belt. Perhaps it affected him, because instead of doing something constructive, he abdicated responsibility by flicking a handpass a few yards sideways to James Walsh.
Walsh, put on the spot, showed even less composure, badly scuffing his kick straight to Cian O’Sullivan. The ball had finally found a man full of confidence, one who would deservedly take the TV man of the match award for his superb use of possession. One beautiful, crisp 40-yard foot pass later, the Kerry full-back line, creaking under the weight of such deliveries already – despite the manful efforts of Aidan O’Mahony – were forced to concede a free. Bernard Brogan obliged to make it 0-6 to 0-0.
In that vignette we see all Kerry’s cause for concern. O’Mahony and Tomas O Se were the ones carrying the fight to Dublin. It is not that the younger players are bad footballers. In a lesser county, flashes such as James O’Donoghue’s fine goal in Castlebar or Patrick Curtin’s battling point to break Kerry’s duck on 22 minutes would be taken as encouragement.
In the Kingdom, the bar is higher. These men are expected, in a few years’ time, to take on the mantle of Colm Cooper and Declan O’Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy. Being a reasonably good footballer can’t compare with being a footballer of the year, and so Kerry fans will look at O’Donoghue’s two bad wides on Sunday, at the couple of times Curtin was dispossessed, and they will feel sobered.
Cooper will be back and Donaghy and the two O’Sullivans featured yesterday. Bryan Sheehan will presumably shift his winter weight and the O Ses and O’Mahony will steel themselves for another summer. And Kerry will be hard to beat – might even, if everything goes right for them, have another All-Ireland in them.
The real worry for Kerry supporters and Eamonn Fitzmaurice is that we won’t be able to say such things in a few years’ time.